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Study Finds Link Between Kids Exposed To Domestic Violence And Suicide Attempts

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People who were exposed to domestic violence when they were kids are more likely to attempt taking their own life than their peers, a new study in Canada has revealed.

Led by Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, researchers from University of Toronto examined data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health which involved 22,559 community-dwelling Canadians.

In the study, parental domestic violence was considered "chronic" if it occurred more than 10 times before the participant was 16 years old.

Fuller-Thomson and her colleagues found that among adults who experienced chronic domestic violence during childhood, the lifetime incidence of suicide attempts was at 17.3 percent, compared to 2.3 percent among those who did not experience it.

Researchers had expected that the link between chronic parental domestic violence and later suicide attempts would somehow be caused by physical or sexual abuse, or by mental illness and substance abuse.

But when they took these factors into account, adults who were exposed to chronic domestic violence still had twice the odds of attempting suicide.

Fuller-Thomson says when domestic violence often occurs at home, kids are more susceptible to long-term negative outcomes, even when the kids themselves are not abused.

"These chaotic home environments cast a long shadow," says Fuller-Thomson.

However, adults who were maltreated when they were kids also had higher odds of suicide attempts. For kids who were sexually abused, the odds were at 16.9 percent, while for those who were physically abused, the rate was 12.4 percent.

Study co-author Stephanie Baird, who is a social work doctoral student at the university, says a history of substance abuse, chronic pain and/or anxiety doubled the likelihood of suicide attempts. On the other hand, a history of major depressive disorder quadrupled the rate.

Baird says the above factors only account for 10 percent of the link between suicide attempts and chronic parental domestic violence.

However, these four factors affected nearly half of the connection between childhood physical or sexual abuse and suicide attempt.

What Must Be Done?

Baird says the findings suggest that professionals who work with survivors of childhood physical or sexual abuse should consider a wider range of options and interventions when addressing chronic pain, mental illness and substance abuse.

Fuller-Thomson says health professionals and social workers must continue to be vigilant in preventing domestic violence, as well as in supporting survivors of the abuse and their children.

Details of the study are published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development.

Photo: Tiffany Terry | Flickr

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